French referee a cause of concern for England

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The Independent Online

Brendan Venter, the Saracens director of rugby, spent much of this week's Heineken Cup launch in Cardiff bemoaning the fact that referees in France are doing things in a very different way to referees on this side of the water. "It is a massive variable; when I watch the French club game, the current directives are not being followed." And who will control the England-New Zealand match at Twickenham in early November – a contest of considerable significance to Martin Johnson and his red-rose coaching team? Why, none other than a Frenchman, the Midi-Pyrenees official Romain Poite.

The International Rugby Board, the body responsible for the aforementioned directives covering law interpretations at the tackle area and the offside line, named its referees for the autumn Tests yesterday. Poite was in charge when England beat the Wallabies by a single point in Sydney during the summer, and as he has developed a strong appreciation of the ancient art of scrummaging, he should, on the face of it, be of some value to Johnson's side. But such is the concern here about the way French Top 14 rugby has been handled over the first few weeks of the season, the Twickenham hierarchy would probably have been happier with a southern hemisphere official.

Three English referees – Dave Pearson from Northumberland, Wayne Barnes from Gloucestershire and the New Zealand-born Londoner Andrew Small – have made it on to the autumn panel. Pearson will control Scotland's meeting with the All Blacks at Murrayfield on 13 November and the Italy-Fiji match in Modena a fortnight later. Barnes has the game between Wales and Australia in Cardiff on 6 November; Small, the least experienced of the three, gets the France-Fiji contest in Nantes the following weekend.

In the Premiership, Leeds have suffered a couple of body-blows on the injury front – wounds that are particularly painful now they are propping up the table. Phil Swainston, their 20-year-old prop, has a hairline fracture in his wrist and the aggressive Samoan No 8 Alfie To'oala, meanwhile, has had surgery to repair a nasty problem with his adductor muscle. On a more positive note, Andy Key, Leeds' director of rugby, said both the flanker Kearnan Myall and the centre Luther Burrell are under consideration for this weekend's trip to London Irish.